A Conversation with Eva L. Baker
edge. There are states and districts that are far out in front of other people.
Q. Federal officials have said that the centers should focus on disseminating knowledge to schools and parents. Is the creation of new knowledge what is needed, or is the problem getting what is known into schools?
2A. I think [they are] right. But the R&D centers are one of the few places where the government has ... made an effort to support the creation of knowledge. There needs to be a good deal of protection of resources [for that purpose.]
While I think there is a need for dissemination, what we need more is to do a better job of connecting up with agencies and groups in direct contact with school people and parents. ... But I think it would be a mistake to turn our center into an organization that would exclusively focus on putting what’s known into practice. Much of what is known is inadequate.
Q. There is a tremendous interest now in performance assessment. What is the current state of research on alternative assessments?2A. It’s growing. The actual data from research on performance assessments is relatively sparse. ...
There’s not very much work looking at how you know whether you get valid re sponses from kids, [or on] how you make the tradeoff between the time and energy it takes to do performance assessment.
Q. Your center held a conference last year on accountability, which identified several issues states must consider as they move to hold schools accountable for student performance. Are states moving too fast on that front?
A. I don’t think you can argue anymore that accountability is something you can put on the back burner. The public won’t stand for it, and the politicians won’t stand for it.
People will have to live with the techni cal limitations. That’s contrary to my usu3p4al view that you have to have everything nice and neat before you do it.
Q. The idea of creating a national test or examination has quickly risen up the education agenda. Do you think such a move is wise?
A. I don’t know the extent to which an extrapolation of what goes on in Europe and other countries is relevant to our en vironment. ... But it’s appropriate for people to explore it. The development work would add to our knowledge about how such an assessment is formulated, whether it becomes policy or not National examinations have come up for many, many years. They’ve always been pooh-poohed because of constitution al limitations. Now, the fact that there is a discussion, and resources put against the activity, suggests that the political cliL mate is changing rapidly. People are grop ing for ways to imbue the education sys tem with characteristics to motivate students more to perform better.
An exam is just not enough, [howev er]. I get a little worried about the tail wagging the dog. ... The test clearly has to be linked to major efforts that need to be made in curriculum, teaching, and in volving parents more directly. I’m happy to have assessment receive public atten tion and political interest, but it has to be seen as part of the activity. It’s not the thing that will fix all other problems.
A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 1991 edition of Education Week as Center Head Takes Aim at ‘Inadequate’ Knowledge on Testing